Spring Is Here

Spring Training is in full affect and the “bugs” are already taking nest. The biggest news in Twins baseball since February started was this last weekend when the fireballer Joel Zumaya was lost for the season with a ulnar collateral ligament tear. Now this is not saying that the Minnesota will repeat the horrors of last season at all, just passing along the news for the few people that may not have read it yet.

So here is the full injury update for the Twins as of March 1st:
Joel Zumaya – UCL tear; out for the season
Justin Morneau – Concussion symptoms; practicing just not fully cleared by MLB yet
Luke Hughes – Strained Shoulder; started throwing, ST games maybe next week
Alexi Casilla – Calf injury; last thing that I read was that it was progressing but not back to 100% yet

All other players seem to be right on track according to most reports including Francisco Liriano, Denard Span and Joe Mauer. As for Zumaya he still has not informed anyone with the team on what his treatment plans are. He is said to be weighing his options on whether he will elect to have the infamous Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL tear and rehab for another attempt at returning or to just retire at age 27. This surgery will be his 6th in 6 years and 3rd on his elbow.

On to some player development and possible starting lineup news. I personally am really high on some of the prospects that the Twins have in there organization but they seem to be “slow playing” a few of them to help them develop more before hitting the Show. In doing so, they have brought in some players and kept others that have a history of being mid to lower tier players in terms of stats. It goes to say that I am not in the clubhouse on a daily basis and don’t know what type of intangibles that these players might bring to the team also. I am going to break down the positions in order and list what I have read in the reports so far and my thoughts and feelings towards it.

The position is absolutely locked up by Joe Mauer and he will not lose it except for injury. Now as most fans know, no one plays all 162 games behind the plate and the talk here is about his backup. The Twins have 8 catchers in total at the Major League Camp but all of the talk for the back up is centered around 2 people in Drew Butera (the backup/starter from last year) and Ryan Doumit (free agent acquisition from Pit). Some are thinking that all 3 could be kept when camp breaks and the team heads for Baltimore for the Opener and I think that could be the best idea. Doumit will more than likely seem considerable time between C, 1B, DH and even OF if needed throughout the year and Butera will be there as the main backup backstop.

Again the position is Morneau’s to lose to injury because it isn’t going to be on performance. Now as a day replacement when needed most of the conversations are pretty locked up by Mauer and Doumit. In my preview I talked about Chris Parmalee who saw some time last year and did well with the club last year. He is one of those prospects that the club wants to send to Rochester (AAA) for more seasoning before bringing him up. My issue here is yes for younger players it is better for them to see consistent live pitching and game time and he probably won’t with the Twins, I think he still provides the best option for when Morneau needs a break.

Right now it looks as if the 2B position is being given to Alexi Casilla even though he has been slowed with a slight calf injury according to reports. Backups will be utility players Luke Hughes (out of options and team doesn’t want to lose him) and Trevor Plouffe (who will also see OF duty during the year). My biggest question here is why? No offense meant to Alexi but the guy is a career .252 hitter in over 5 years of service and only averages 10 SB a year. Yet last year we went out and signed a player out of Japan that was a 2B over there and we try to shift him to SS. Now we sign a veteran SS and leave Nishi as a backup/utility player? I just don’t get the thinking here. Let Tsuyoshi Nishioka compete directly with Alexi and then if he doesn’t win the position nothing is lost.

Jamey Carroll was acquired to solidify the position and he will. The caveat here is that it is a short term fix like Luis Castillo was years ago. Carroll is 38 and a career .278 hitter and while that is an improvement over the last couple of years, how long do we expect him to last? He has never played more than 70 games at SS in the Majors. Our best option in the prospects is Brain Dozier who the club is saying is still another year from the Twins. He was one of the top hitters in the Minors last year hitting .318 in New Britton (AA). With the log jam of potentials and utilities with the club though I have to agree that its better to start him back in NB and move him to Rochester when he is ready. Use this year to figure out who is viable for the Club between Carroll, Casilla, Plouffe, Hughes and Nishi for the 2 positions in the middle.

Danny Valencia has done well in the last 2 years to lock this position up for the immediate future. With that said though, the consensus top prospect in the organization in Miguel Sano is on the horizon and will start in either Beloit(A) or Fort Meyers(HiA). He is the 3B for now and more than likely the next 2-3 years and there is just the utility guys behind him right now of Hughes and Plouffe. The only chance for a surprise here would be if non-roster invitee Sean Burroughs can make enough of an impact to make the team.

Last year Delmon Young was entrenched in LF and we responded by shipping him to Detroit for a P that has a ton to develop. Span was our rock in CF and Cuddy had RF on lock also. Here is where things start getting disorganized. Right now stories are saying that Ben Revere is going to start in LF with Span back in CF and newcomer Josh Willingham in RF. Willingham though has been a LF for years and Revere is used to being a CF. I firmly believe that even with the battle in the middle infield, this is where we could see some huge changes throughout the year. I personally think that Revere has the better range and should be in CF with Span starting in LF and Willingham, if he can handle the transition, in RF. We also still have Plouffe who has been doing more work in the OF than the IF so far this spring and Rene Tosoni to split time also. Then you also have Doumit that they are trying to get time in the OF as another chance to get more at-bats this season. Plus you have a huge prospect that saw some time in MN last year in Joe Benson who looks to be the prototype corner OF, a little more pop and slightly less range with a bigger arm. Oh and our #2 stud in Aaron Hicks and his teammate in Fort Meyers, Oswaldo Arcia who are a still another 2 years from the Bigs but are on their way. Overall this season I see at least 7 different players seeing time in the OF: Revere, Span, Willingham, Doumit, Plouffe, Tosoni and Benson.

Starters are more set in stone here and kinda simple going in: Pavano, Liriano, Baker, Blackburn, and Marquis. Now for my gripes, Blackburn hasn’t seemed to be able to get many hitters out the last couple of years and we are slotting him instead of Duensing. Blackburn has had years to prove to be a great starter while Duensing had a great half of season in 2010 but had a bit of a “Sophomore Slump” last year. I don’t see Blackburn lasting too long in the starting rotation before replacement. Scott Diamond is another option to step into the rotation too as he has experience as a starter. A note about Diamond, I think that I referenced him as a Rule 5 pick that had to stay on the team but am wrong. The Twins traded a prospect for him after acquiring him so as not to lose him.

Releivers are an entirely different story right now. One extra spot just opened with Zumaya done for the year but lets not get side tracked. Capps is in as the Closer. Perkins and Duensing are in as well as Swarzak, Diamond and probably Alex Burnett. Some of the bubble pitchers will include Matt Maloney, Jeff Manship and maybe Kyle Waldrop. Most of the other pitchers in camp are just looking to get some experience against big league level talent.

Again most of this is based on the forecast of no more major injuries, but there is usually at least one per year at some point. Can’t wait to see what the rest of Spring brings to us. Oh and let the games begin cause today March 1st is the first ST game between to pro teams in the Mariners and A’s.

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